August 2, 2013 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #121


limpet_CALimpet At Disney. When thinking about animation, how many fans forget about Warner Bros.’ The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), that according to the credits featured “Special Piscatorial Effects” by such animation talents as Vladimir “Bill” Tytla, Gerry Chiniquy, Hawley Pratt, Robert McKimson, Maurice Noble and Don Peters (background)? Although former Disney animator Bill Tytla was credited as the supervising animation director, I have been told that a combination of health issues and disagreements with producer John C. Rose led to Robert McKimson taking over most of the animation directing duties early in production. This movie was the final animated film work released by Warner Brothers before the animation studio was officially shut down. Stephen Hillenburg supposedly studied the backgrounds in the film for use in Spongebob Squarepants. A figure of Mr. Limpet wearing his trademark round glasses and Don Knotts’ lips and hiding in the seaweed appears in the Disney California Adventure’s “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure” attraction (pictured at right). He does not appear in the Walt Disney World version. (In the last frozen pose in the big finale of “Under the Sea” musical number in the animated feature The Little Mermaid, Mr. Limpet is in the upper right hand section.)


The Lost Grail. Actor Dale Robertson, well known for his work on the television series “Tales of Well Fargo” (1957-62), wanted to do a full length animated feature film based on the search for the Holy Grail. What stopped him? The relative failure of the animated feature The Man From Button Willow (1965) directed by David Detiege for Animation Filmmakers Corp./Eagle Films that tried to capitalize on Robertson’s Western hero image. It was Cliff Edwards last major film and he provided the voice of the villain’s henchman. Pinto Colvig, Thurl Ravenscroft, Verna Felton, Ross Martin, Herschel Bernardi and Clarence Nash also provided voices. Animation was done by folks like Ben Washam, Amby Paliwoda, Ken Hultgren, John Dunn, Harry Holt, John Sparey, Don Lusk, and Moe Gollub among some other artistic talents like Ron Dias. When was the last time any of you ever saw the film? In the film, Robertson was rotoscoped for some of the action as the first U.S. Government agent helping out settlers in the Old West.

Dracula Never Returned. In April 1976, Orsatti Productions announced they were producing an animated feature based on Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”. Emil Carle was producing and George Greer was doing the scripting. Legendary artist Frank Frazetta painted some concept artwork to sell the film as well as designing the look of several characters like Van Helsing and Dracula.

Say the Secret Word. A still photo of Groucho Marx appears in “Popeye Meets William Tell” (1940). The fabled archer opens a locket to show the photo that wiggles its eyebrows. Groucho is supposed to be William Tell’s son, who isn’t around (“I shot him from under an apple” sadly said his father) so Popeye has to substitute for him.

Standards and Practices 1977. Writer and artist Norman Maurer, who was story editor for Hanna-Barbera’s “Dyno-Mutt” in 1977 told me at the time that he had once written a scene for “Josie and the Pussycats” where a cat, escaping from some sort of science-fiction menace, hides in a dish of spaghetti. CBS disallowed it. “Kids’ll put their cats in spaghetti” Maurer was told. In one cartoon segment, Maurer tried to deliever a little message about the undesirability of dictators such as Caesar, Napoleon and Hitler and was not permitted to use Hitler as an example. These memories came up because at the time he had written a bit of dialog where Dog Wonder Dyno-Mutt used the phrase “guys and gals” and ABC Office of Standard and Practices pointed out very clearly that young ladies should only be referred to as “girls”.

tj_grapeapeJoe Barbera Quote. In 1976, Barbera told a magazine reporter that “We have run into a stone wall because some citizens for the protection of the children of the world have decided cartoons are evil, that they’re violent and full of mayhem. We showed the network folks five of the old ‘Tom and Jerry’s and they laughed so hard that they had tears in their eyes. Then they said, ‘We can’t use them. If we put those on we’ll get killed.’….I’m just as enthusiastic about Tom and Jerry as I was 20 years ago. Unless people went back and saw the old ones, I don’t think they will know there’s a difference.” Barbera was doing promotion for “The New Tom and Jerry Show” on Saturday mornings on ABC. Generally, in this series, Tom and Jerry are friends but still competitive. This is the series that also featured episodes of Grape Ape.

Sources Revealed. At the Telluride Film Festival in the mid-1970s, animation legend Chuck Jones quipped after seeing a sampler of his best animation work interspersed with some comedy classics like Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, “It’s been revealed tonight who I stole from…and how inferior I am to my sources.” The audience disagreed, cheering him loudly.

Those Looney Guys. In a mid 1970s interview, voice artist Mel Blanc commented about the Warners animators, “Oh, they were nuts! I used to just do my voices and then get the hell out. I’d walk into their office and there they’d be, one guy bent over another, both of them wearing German helmets and another ready to hit one of them over the head with an ax! They had to act out the cartoons as they drew them.”

Unmade Barnaby. In 1967, it was announced that Halas and Batchelor were preparing an animated series for an American/British audience based on the popular 1940s Crockett Johnson comic strip, “Barnaby”.

What’s In A Name? Jose Cuahtemoc Melendez began his animation career at Disney in 1938. “This idiot at Disney said what kind of a name is that? We’ll call you ‘Bill’. It’s given me great anonymity. People looking for me look for Bill Melendez. My legal name is still Jose Cuahtemoc — nobody looks for that name. I have a suspicion that that really helped me during the UnAmerican Activities folderol here in Hollywood.” Bill’s work on a series of commercials for the Ford Falcon car which featured the PEANUTS characters convinced Charles Schulz that Bill Melendez was the man to handle the animation of his characters when it came time to do specials. (One of the reasons Schulz agreed to his characters appearing in the Ford Falcon commercials was that he had only driven Ford cars in his life up to that point.)


On a personal note: Over the weekend of July 12-13, I was a speaker at the old movie palace recently restored, the Redford Theater in Detroit, Michigan, entertaining audiences before three screenings of “Mary Poppins” to raise money for the Detroit chapter of “Make A Wish”. Happily, over three thousand dollars were raised to make wishes come true for some children. In addition, Steve Stanchfield, of Thunderbean Animation, who often supplies some animated shorts to run before the films at the theater, dropped by to visit and not only is he an extraordinarily nice and knowledgeable fellow but he has some amazing DVD projects in the works for us all to enjoy in the future. It was great to meet one of my fellow colleagues writing under the Cartoon Research banner – Keep up the good work, Steve!


  • Actually, Halas & Batchelor did two Barnaby shorts in the 60`s (“Housecleaning Blues” and “Father Dear Father”), probably as pilots for the unproduced series. I saw one of them, “Father Dear Father” -in which Barnaby asks Mr. O’Malley for advice on what kind of gift should he buy for his dad on Father’s Day- in the early 90`s on U.K.´s Channel Four and graphically it was pretty faithful to the orginal Crockett Johnson Strip, besides having fluid animation and a lively theme song.

  • I have an anecdote that I might as well put up here since I don’t know where else it may fit. I no longer remember exactly when or where, but somewhere there is a newspaper article that says Japanese anime fandom was started by animation writer Jeffrey Scott, which I’m sure would be big news to him.

    About three or four years after anime fandom in America started, which must have been around 1980 or ’81, I was telephone-interviewed by a newspaper reporter for a story about the fandom and why we found anime so fascinating instead of American animation. Fine, except that the reporter wanted to get some famous name into the story. She wanted me to say that Chuck Jones or Bill Hanna or Joe Barbera or June Foray or one of the better-known Disney directors had recommended anime to us and gotten us started. No, no, no! I refused to go along with this. We fans had discovered anime by ourselves, I emphasized.

    When the story was published, it said that animation writer Jeffrey Scott, who was in the news just then for winning an Emmy for one of his animation scripts, was the guru who had introduced anime to us and recommended that we start a club to promote anime. I’m sure that Scott’s name was never mentioned once in our interview.

    • I’m sure he’ll be happy to know that Fred!

  • A Barnaby series still sounds like a good idea – but only in 2D.

  • Never knew about the Mr. Limpet cameo in The Little Mermaid! That’s pretty neat , Disney often sneaks other characters into their films, but they are often only their own.

  • The Man from Button Willow:

    • I remember seeing this in a theater as a kid; recently found a DVD on what looks like a dubious label. There’s some nice visual work and variable animation but the story is a mess. Be interesting to know if there was a much longer script or even a different cut.

      It begins with Robertson himself appearing in live action and promising the adventures of an old west secret agent. We see his character returning home from a mission, and the movie shifts its focus away from human characters to lovable animals for what seems like most of the movie. Finally the hero goes to San Francisco to quickly rescue a kidnapped senator. Villains who were seen and talked up at the beginning of the film are dismissed in a voiceover. The End.

    • That’s what really killed the movie, those darn animals on the ranch!

      “Villains who were seen and talked up at the beginning of the film are dismissed in a voiceover. The End.”

      That annoyed me plenty! You see these guys and think, oh something’s going down and it doesn’t.

  • Regarding Groucho’s “cameo” in the Popeye cartoon: Popeye animator Shamus Culhane either was at the time, or eventually became (I’m fuzzy on my history) Chico Marx’s son-in-law, which might explain this very odd Groucho gag. Might, that is!

    • Chico would show up a few cartoons later as a moving man zipping his fingers over a piano, in the next ‘literary’ short Dan Gordon wrote for the sailor, Myron Waldman’s “Popeye the Sailor Meets Rip van Winkle”. And of course, Popeye infamously killed Harpo in the early effort “Sock-A-Bye Baby”. So all three of the brothers had their own individual cameos (though AFAIK, the Fleischer Studio never had a Zeppo cameo in any of their Popeyes…)

  • “When was the last time any of you ever saw the film?”

    For me, it was courtesy of FLIX one early morning and I bothered DVD-R’ing the thing, though I already had a 16mm print anyway. I see MGM has it in their mitts.

  • It’s funny, I just introduced my boys (and myself) to Incredible Mr Limpet a few weeks ago. I always like a little extra trivia (usually courtesy imdb) to add to my viewing experience. Thanks for this bonus! Fridays are my favourite day on this site!

  • I reviewed the 1942 ‘Mr. Limpet’ novel a couple of years ago.

    • Thanks for this review Fred! I didn’t know that “Mr. Limpet” was ever a novel. Have you ever reviewed the original “Francis The Talking Mule” novel?

    • Theodore Pratt, author of the 1942 “Limpet” novel,” published “Mr. Winkle Goes to War” the following year. It had a similar premise — a milquetoast, underestimated by his wife and others, becomes a war hero. It became a movie in 1944 and aired on TCM. Edward G. Robinson played Winkle and Ruth Warrick played his wife. Though I watched it with anticipation, but Robinson never transformed into an animated marine gastropod.

      The special features on the WB Limpet DVD are pretty interesting, from Arthur Godfrey hawking his 45 RPM single of “I Wish I Were a Fish” to the premiere at Weeki Wachee in Florida. At the premiere, Carole Cook’s beehive hairdo is a towering marvel.

    • Yes. Here are my reviews of ‘Francis’ and ‘Francis Goes to Washington’.

    • Sorry about that. The link to my ‘Francis’ review is:

      I also wrote a retrospective about talking animals in World War II propaganda. I don’t know if all of the weblinks in it still work::

    • Speaking of WWII talking animals, I just bought myself a copy of the French graphic novel ” La Bete Est Morte! ” from Edmond-François Calvo. That’s going to be a fun read for me!

    • I read “La Bête est Morte!” by Calvo decades ago. Yes, you are in for a treat! It deserves to still be in print after 60+ years.

    • Thanks Fred, some things should be.

    • Just to let you know the book arrived today Fred! It’s the English edition and it should give me some good hours this weekend to read through!

  • I remember almost all of the stories. The “Josie” pussycat ion spaghetti should be the LEAST of parental fears—–many young teen boys LEERED at the girls in those suits in the 70s LOL!

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